Bouncing Back in Addiction Recovery

By Ken Wells - 04/03/2021


Series Two: Blog Seventeen

The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived” —Robert Jordan

No one does recovery perfectly. Imperfection is the ingredient in life that often triggers the need for recovery.  Yet, many addicts are baffled because they have relapsed or have fallen short of a standard of behavior. Recovery requires resilience, the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. It is a quality in human spirit that like bamboo, creates far more flexibility than you would ever realize at first glance. Nevertheless, it is a trait that is often neglected in the emotional development of many addicts in recovery.

Stigma of Addiction: Addiction carries stigmas and stereotypes that are unbecoming. Society frequently judges those who are addicted as having flaws in character, being irresponsible or unsafe. Johns Hopkins researcher Emma McGinty, Ph.D. wrote that national surveys reveal that many Americans are unwilling to have someone with substance problems as a work colleague or neighbor, and more than half believe that people with alcohol and drug addiction or other mental diseases are likely to be violent toward others.  She further wrote that one study showed that the percentage of those who thought alcohol dependence was linked with “bad character” actually increased significantly, from 49 percent to 65 percent. Stigma and stereotypical judgments about addictive behavior often discourage addicts from cultivating resilience, convinced that relapse only confirms what most think of them anyway.

Obstacles to Resilience

There are many obstacles on the road to recovery that can block the development of resilience. Here are a few:

< Dishonesty– Adaptability which is so necessary for long term sobriety is short-circuited with dishonesty. Living incongruent to your values always paralyzes resilience. Dishonesty in any area of life blurs your focus and blocks resilience. Embellishing your recovery behavior such as falsely reporting sobriety or ducking and diving recovery issues because of discomfort will only set you up for relapse. Resilience is unable to gain traction as long as you are invested in not facing truth in your life.

<Low self-esteem triggered by mistaken beliefs- Not believing in yourself fuels the negative chatterbox within when you are faced with adversity in recovery experience. Telling yourself what you cannot do will strengthen self-sabotage behavior and drain the energy of resilience because of your from low self-esteem. A lack of self-confidence comes from the deprivation of not loving yourself. If you can’t love yourself, it’s unlikely you will find love elsewhere.  Respect from others begins with self-respect. Without self-respect resilience evaporates and addicts become stuck in self-defeating patterns of behavior.

<Zero Sum mentality– Zero-sum mentality impacts recovery and so many other aspects of our world. In principle, zero-sum living depends upon winners and losers. One person’s gain or loss is predicated on the loss or gain of others. It is like taking a larger piece of cake and reducing the amount of cake available to others.  It fuels an attitude of deprivation and undermines resilience as a resource. When you are stuck in a deprived mindset you are unlikely to incorporate resilience in recovery and more likely to embrace an entitled thought of wanting what you want when you want it.

< Shame bound living–  Shame blocks resilience. When you drift away from your values in recovery, shame condemns and disfigures your awareness of who you are. It is like acid in a car battery. When the acid is poured from the battery onto your skin, it burns, mars and scars. Like acid, when you move shame from your behavior to your own sense of self, it too, disfigures your authentic self. Resilience thrives from authenticity while shame replaces genuine perspective with a defensive false self.

Overcoming these and other obstacles requires cultivating an environment that nurtures and cultivates a resilient spirit. In my recovery life it has helped me to visit other addicts in recovery who seemed to achieve a level of sobriety and serenity that I hoped to create. With zeal I observed and inquired about the way in which they approached their recovery and then molded an environment that would create the desired results that I wanted. These individuals became a role model for me in recovery. I was careful not to put them on a pedestal because I have always believed that fulfilling my destiny in recovery demanded that I be my own guru, not anyone else. I took time to observe organizations in the sports and business world which I thought were admirable in cultivating a culture for achievement. I would embrace attitudes and concepts that I thought were significant and admirable and then incorporated them into my lifestyle that would help me to achieve lifetime sobriety and serenity. These were not concepts that I learned from my upbringing. I had to invest in re-parenting myself by investigating other’s attitudes, philosophies and behaviors. Here are a few concepts that helped to break through the obstacles toward establishing resilience in my life:

< Permeability– The concept of permeability refers to becoming porous, allowing things to be pass through every part of you. To me, it meant to establish an attitude that absorbed everything I could learn about recovery. I became spongelike.  I   soaked in the wisdom and understanding of what it truly meant to be sober and serene from those who had achieved what I had not. It still means that to this very day. This concept of being permeable speaks to cultivating a thirst and hunger for recovery growth. Therein lies a secret to creating resilience. I recall during earliest days of recovery when I doubted and would inquire skeptically with my sponsor, Chip, about the 12 steps. Chip, who was a mild mannered man, had enough of the skepticism. He cleared his throat, looked me in the eye and said, “Ken I think it would help you to simply shut up and do what you are told”. Oddly, I used his blunt language to save myself and it began a path that led to cultivating resilience. I did not stop being inquisitive or become someone’s lackey, but I did commit to an attitude of cultivating a permeable spirit absorbing practices that led to long term sobriety and peace. I would sit with other recovery people at coffee shops after 12-step meetings and soak in concepts that cultivated resilience.

< Vulnerability– The concept of vulnerability in many ways is the most difficult to incorporate in order to create residence. Plainly, it is difficult to admit to others that you are wrong or that you have made a mistake. Simply, it is hard to become emotionally naked to anyone else. Though becoming vulnerable is difficult, resilient living requires it. You won’t become resilient without owning and embracing your mistakes. When you close your heart to your mistakes and become defensive you begin to hide behind a wall of fear in order to avoid being vulnerable. A closed heart fuels pessimism, which will undermine optimism and spontaneity. An open heart is porous and real. It recognizes that mistakes are made by all. An open heart creates a connection to the present moment and extracts meaningfulness from commonplace experience. Only then can you draw understanding and wisdom from your mistakes toward fulfilling your destiny. This is an essential quality of a resilient spirit.

< Flexibility– This quality of resilience speaks to cultivating the capacity to adapt and make adjustments. In recovery, addicts who are flexible have learned to bend and not break. They work toward accepting their imperfections and learn from their mistakes. They focus on going with the flow of everyday life, embracing that life is full of surprises and that the best-laid plans go awry. When faced with disappointment, they learn to embrace the discomfort and move on. They have learned how to bring themselves back to center. They don’t wallow in the mud of failure when it happens. Rather, in the presence of negative thoughts and feelings, they take action on the affirmations they have chosen to embrace This is where resilience comes to maturity.

The road of recovery is not a straight line. Sometimes it takes a long way around to sobriety and serenity. We envision the image of becoming strong like the oak. Yet, long term sobriety is most often solidified by the willow and the bamboo whose properties allow for bending when needed in order to survive and eventually thrive.

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